Halperin Charges ‘Extreme Bias’ By Media Against McCain

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By: Greg Mitchell

Mark Halperin, the Time.com “The Page” blogger, has gotten a lot of Web attention since Friday when, at a forum in Los Angeles, he called media bias in favor of Barack Obama “extreme” and “disgusting,” the worst display of media malfeasance since the run-up to the Iraq war (which Halperin himself was a part of, he neglects to say).

Here’s Halperin’s full quote: “It’s the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.”

Asked at the forum to name the #1 reason the media boosted Obama, Halperin replied that it was the desire to see him simultaneously “etched in glass” and “on Mount Rushmore.”

Getting much less notice was the response from Mark Barabak, political writer for the L.A. Times, at the same affair: “Look at it in it’s totality, at the end of the day did the media serve its function, to inform people about who these two men are? Yes they did.” (I wrote a lengthy column about this general subject recently — find it near the top of my list of columns at the right on this page.)

Halperin himself couldn’t be biased, could he? One recalls his remarkable letter to far right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt last year when he declared, “I really enjoyed our radio talk and I appreciated the opportunity to appear with someone I respect so much….As I said on the show, you and I agree on almost everything we discussed.” Halperin co-authored a book with John Harris of Politico last year, in which they titled one chapter “Matt Drudge Rules Our World.” They explained that Drudge “is the gatekeeper… he is the Walter Cronkite of his era.”

The pair also declared that for any Democrat to win the White House in 2008 they would have to somehow neutralize and get past Drudge. In fact, Drudge, amazingly, turned out to be a relative non-factor in the campaign.

Halperin is so terrified of offending McCain’s team that he recently gave each of them an overall grade of “B” or higher for their campaign work — even though they led him to defeat (in a rout), helped him make the disastrous Palin pick, left much of his reputation in tatters and took much of his party down with him. Other than that: Good work, guys. As I asked after those grades came out, where was Halperin when I needed him as one of my teachers back in high school?

And who can forget Halperin’s lengthy post at his site back in February when he listed 16 things that “McCain can do” in taking on Obama that the vanquished Hillary Clinton could not. The list included “6. Allow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama” and “11. Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.”

Since he is close to McCain’s campaign team, this was readily interpreted as direct advice and offended so many that Halperin later placed at the bottom of the post in red, “Note: This is analysis of what is likely to happen, not advice or endorsement. ” And in that update he disingenuosly commented, “McCain has already been forced to denounce several instances of some of these efforts.” Gee, wonder who might have inspired “some of these efforts”?

Oddly, Halperin himself once argued for not treating candidates on a level playing field if one was playing badly or cheating. In a famous 2004 memo, written when he was in charge of ABC’s political coverage, he urged staffers covering the Bush-Kerry race not to “reflexively and artificially hold both sides ‘equally’ accountable.”

It’s the old false equivalency problem. But now, in his “disgusting” remarks at the forum, Halperin cited as one of the most obvious 2008 flaws the New York Times’ late profiles of Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. Why, he argued, the McCain profile was more negative! We wonder why. Come to think of it, Michelle Obama did not have an affair with Barack while he was married to another, did not steal money from her own charity and barely avoid jail, did not become a drug addict, did not lie about the the circumstances of adopting a baby abroad, and so on.

A few years back, I wrote a pair of books for Random House about famously dirty U.S. political elections, so I know a thing or two about press bias in campaigns. This year, one of the most revealing high-profile measures of how the media often bent over backwards to be kind to McCain surrounded the four presidential and veep debates. In every case, most of the TV network anchors and analysts declared when the debates ended that the Republican had tied or won narrowly.

Then the post-debate polls of voters came in, showing that in every case, Obama or Biden won easily.

Halperin loves to make lists, often on a daily basis. I would love to see his list of evidence for “extreme” media bias against McCain. Then we could judge his standards. Perhaps that list would even change my mind.

But as I observed in that earlier column, most of the claims for the media favoring Obama have come in tallies of “favorable” stories about him. This, of course, is absurd since (as reports also show) the “horse race” dominated the media’s coverage and Obama led that race easily by very measure: polls, fundraising, drawing crowds, online activity, key endorsements, and more. Halperin would do better to rail against “horse race” coverage– but then he wouldn’t do that, since he practices it more often than nearly anyone.

For a video of Halperin making his “disgusting” remarks:

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